When I look around and see half empty cans of Diet Coke sitting on tables and counters all over the room, and I find myself working on a sewing project well into the middle of the night, pins spilled on the floor and swatches of fabric piled up underfoot, or when I hear myself tell my five year old, “When you are the Dad you can do things however you want, but until then, I’m the boss,” I stop and think to myself – Oh boy, I’ve turned into my mother.
My 15-year-old self would be mortified. Just like my mother, I am single minded and can effortlessly block out the voices of my children when I want to. I have the ability to finish three or more household tasks while my family waits in the car for me. Even though it is totally trendy to mix stripes and florals, I just can’t do it. When I say I will be there in a minute, I actually mean that I will be there in 40 minutes – just like my mother.
No matter how hard my teenage self fought to be independent and autonomous, my matchy-match, project doing, Diet Coke drinking mother has gotten into my blood and my bones.
Here is the funny part though, my 34-year-old self isn’t that mad about it.
Her ever-optimistic words come out of my mouth when I’m not paying attention. When something spills, breaks or gets lost, my first response is always, “It’s fine, it’s okay, it’s going to be fine.”
Last year, my mother booked a flight from Salt Lake City to Williston to visit me. I was between babies and feeling as frumpy as ever. In a moment of vulnerability I said to her on the phone before she arrived, “Mom, I am embarrassed for you to see me. I am so fat.”
Her response sums up everything that is great about her.
“Betsy,” she said, “Losing weight is like having a messy house, you’ll get around to it eventually.”
She is pragmatic. She is authentic. She is kind.
Recently, I took my 4-month-old daughter in for a regular well-check and the doctor saw something that concerned him. I had to wait a day to get the test that would tell us whether we had a problem on our hands.
I texted my mom and we both agreed that, of course it would be fine, and, the doctor is being overly cautious, and, we have no reason to worry until we have more information. All day long we reassured each other.
That night, while I was lying awake riddled with anxiety, I received a text from her.
“I booked a flight to come and see you next week,” it read. “If it is bad news you will need me. If it is good news then bonus for us.”
My mother has had seven babies. Two of those babies have spent time in the ICU – one born 6 weeks early and another nearly dying, at nine months old, from Reye’s Syndrome followed by pneumonia and collapsed lungs.
For as long as I can remember, there has been an oversized picture of my brother, sick in the hospital, hanging on the wall of my parents home. In the picture is a small bloated boy on a large hospital bed, surrounded by machines and covered in tubes. The picture is kind of scary – grotesque and depressing.
One day as a teenager, I stopped and looked at the picture. For the first time it dawned on me that it was an odd piece of artwork to have on our wall. It didn’t make any sense to me because the picture is sad and my brother recovered, he was a thriving teenage boy at that point.
I asked my mother why she still kept the baby hospital picture on the wall. When I think back on her answer, it makes more and more sense to me every year.
“I keep it there because when I look at it, I think that no matter how hard today is, it is not as hard as that day – and I lived through that day.”
My mother, prone to anxiety, became a new woman through the grief of my brother’s hospital stay. She left that hospital with strength she had never known before. Not invincible, she knew, she was confident in the fragility of things, confident that no matter what the next day brought, she could face it.
That picture reminds her of her strength.
So in her text, when she said that if my baby received bad news I would need her, she spoke from experience. The woman knows about sick babies and bad test results. While not afraid of them, she also knows that when you have a sick baby and bad test results, you need your mother sitting next to you. As her mother did for her.
Her tough days infused her with faith in herself, and now I realize, the scars of her life have trickled down to touch me, to influence me, to change me.
Thankfully, her trip to see me was one of celebration, a bonus because my baby received good news – false alarm, all is well.
In her brief visit, she buoyed me up. She spread her optimism and wry humor around my home and left me feeling more able to do the things I have to do everyday.
If I could talk to my 15-year-old self, I would tell her stop fighting it. Lean in Betsy, I’d say, it wouldn’t be all that bad to turn into your party throwing, raspberry jam making, storytelling, eccentric and quirky, open minded mother.
In fact, teenage girl, you should be so lucky.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom!